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New Friends in the Sandbox: ADAAA and Work Comp
Recently, I wrote about how FMLA and ADAAA don’t always play well together in the sandbox. We have other “friends” on the playground that we shouldn’t ignore. The friend I’m focusing on today is workers’ compensation. Or work comp, as friends know it.
Like the interplay between FMLA and ADAAA, the relationship between work comp and ADAAA can be complex. I’ve outlined a few key differences between the laws and their impact on leave and reporting.
The Basics: What Are the Differences Between ADAAA and Work Comp?
To refresh your memory, the ADAAA applies to employers with 15 or more employees on its payroll for 20 or more calendar work weeks in either the current or preceding calendar year. Any qualified individual with a disability who, with or without an accommodation, can perform the essential functions of their position is protected under the ADAAA.
In general, most employers are required to provide work comp. Employees are covered from the moment they are hired. Employees, who are covered from the moment they are hired, and are eligible for the benefit if they become ill or injured on the job or as a result of their job. Subject to a few exceptions for federal government employees, work comp laws are controlled by the state where the employee works, meaning employers who do business in multiple states can have multiple variations of the work comp process.
For ADAAA, employees must let employers know that they need an adjustment or change to their job for a reason that may be related to a medical condition or disability. If an employer requests medical information, usually the employee’s attending physician provides it.
Under most work comp rules, employees typically have a limited period of time to notify their employer of an on-the-job injury. If an employer requests medical information, the work comp provider — which may contract with many doctors — fulfills the request.
The key here is that an employer may require medical information. There is no hard and fast requirement for an employer to ensure that a physician provides clear information to help them make a decision.
So, how do the two laws interact? Does a work comp injury always result in a disability as defined under ADAAA? No. ADAAA defines a disability as an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Not every occupational injury meets that criteria. If it does, then an employer is required to look at both work comp and ADAAA.
Using Leave and Light Duty as Accommodations
Under ADAAA, leave as a reasonable accommodation may be an option when an employee is ineligible for or has exhausted time under FMLA. ADAAA doesn’t provide a guideline for how much leave time is reasonable. It’s often left to the employer to decide.
Under most work comp rules, there are typically no leave requirements. Because work comp often deals with issues related to the injury or condition — such as rehabilitation and physical therapy — a reasonable accommodation may not focus on additional leave, but rather on adjusted work schedules.
Another option under work comp is a light-duty assignment. While light duty isn’t applicable under FMLA, it could apply under ADAAA. In states where light duty is a requirement of work comp, employees may be required to use it to get back to work. In states that don’t require it, light duty is something that employees could reject. In certain states, like Georgia, employees can try light duty to see whether they can perform their duties before accepting or rejecting it.
The takeaway is that when looking at ADAAA and work comp, consider light-duty assignments as a reasonable accommodation if they are available.
Returning to the Same Job After an Injury
Under ADAAA, an employee is entitled to return to the same job unless the employer has shown that holding the job open creates an undue hardship or the employee can no longer perform the essential job functions.
Under work comp in many states, there is no automatic right of return. But it’s often in the employer’s best interest to get the employee back to work as quickly as possible. This can lead to conflict if the employee doesn’t feel ready to return, especially if the work comp medical provider clears a return. Remember: the work comp medical provider is often not the employee’s primary doctor.
Managing the interaction between work comp and ADAAA can be difficult, but it’s essential to making sure that we all play in the sandbox nicely. Make sure your processes clearly address how your company manages these interactions and document every action to show how you arrived at your decisions. This may not prevent all conflicts in the sandbox, but it will go a long way to making sure that we all continue to play nicely.
About guest blogger David Setzkorn
David Setzkorn, national practice leader – absence management, has led the strategic development of The Standard’s absence management offering since 2015. His experience includes consultation and development of absence management programs with large clients from implementation and training, to ongoing compliance with state and federal regulations. David is a graduate of Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Science in purchasing and logistics management, and an MBA with an emphasis in project management. He also holds a Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) designation along with multiple certifications in IT and Operational Management.